Rhiannon Dixon: “I couldn’t ask for a better team to be learning from.”
I first interviewed the unbeaten Warrington lightweight Rhiannon Dixon in early 2020. The world was very different back then, a planet totally unrecognisable to what we now know.
Back in March last year Dixon was winding down her preparations for her third professional fight. But when the pandemic hit her scheduled fight got cancelled, Dixon had to then sit and wait, and focus on her day job and dealing with the horrors on the front line on the wards of the NHS Hospital she works at. The punching pharmacist had a different focus for much of last year. Unimaginable horrors were witnessed, boxing had to wait.
But when the world started to slowly kick back into life, her sport of choice slowly but surely started to gather momentum again.
Dixon made changes, the former world champion Anthony Crolla took Dixon under his wing. The development was swift, but the fights failed to materialise. Dixon didn’t have a platform to show her progress. At times Dixon was a frustrated fighter, she told me she felt like a fraud when potential fight dates came and went without reward. With no fight since 2019, Dixon didn’t feel like an active fighter.
But in the last few months, things have changed dramatically for Dixon. She returned to action in September, a routine win over 4 rounds on a Sunday afternoon in Bolton. But improving her unbeaten record to 3-0 is only just the beginning. Dixon is now signed to Matchroom, a big platform that guarantees big nights ahead for the former White Collar fighter.
Dixon hasn’t yet had a fight on the big stage, but has experienced two press conferences with Matchroom, an environment she told Fightpost that she is yet to feel entirely comfortable with:
“I never like the press conferences I just find them dead awkward. The microphone is in front of you but Eddie is sitting behind you and I find it rude to not look at him. What Eddie asks you, is not really a question it is more a statement and you have to follow on from a statement. So I just say I’m excited etc. When I met Eddie for the first time he said come here for a photo and he wanted to shake my hand but my hand was really sweaty and I didn’t really want to, I bet he thought I was some kind of wet freak. I said afterwards to Anthony I think I embarrassed myself. And then my hair didn’t go right and I was going to wear a hat for the press conference but my mum said Rhiannon Dixon you are not going to wear a hat for that press conference it is so rude. I didn’t have a brush that’s all I am thinking about when I do them, I just thought my hair looks shocking.”
That fight on the big stage should have already happened. Dixon was scheduled to appear on the undercard of the Liam Smith and Anthony Fowler Liverpool show but just 24 hours out from the fight Dixon was pulled from the card:
“I only found out there was a problem on the morning of the press conference on the Thursday before the fight. I was sat with Ross in the waiting area waiting to go out and then Eddie said don’t worry we are still trying to do it, and I said what. He said I’m still trying to get your fight going and then he said Anthony hasn’t told you has he. Anthony was just trying to protect me, Ant said your opponent has pulled out and we are trying to get anyone and everyone and not to worry because we will get you an opponent.
“Then I was training with Ant on Thursday evening and my manager Steve Wood came in and said we have offered the fight to loads of fighters but it was like the day before and they couldn’t make the weight and things like that so it is perfectly understandable. Then on Friday morning, I made weight and then Ant rang me to tell me the fight was off. I felt worse for him because he sounded so upset. Eddie sent me a message saying that he was really sorry and that he had tried everything.”
Despite the frustration of Liverpool, Dixon will get to close out the year on a Matchroom card. The Christmas markets in Manchester will be of little initial interest on December 18th. Dixon has landed on the big Manchester end of year show featuring on the Joseph Parker Derek Chisora undercard. One week before the festivities begin in earnest, Dixon has the chance to make an impression on a brand new audience with a step up in the quality of opposition:
“It’s just been confirmed my opponent is Tereza Dvorakova, she has a 4-6 record. She is a step up from my last fight, Dvorakova used to be a kickboxer before and she looks as though she does come to fight. Some fighters just come to survive and play their part. Obviously, the sport needs those types of fighters for others to get experience. She’s tough, comes forward and I’m excited. I don’t want someone who comes just to tuck up I want someone who comes and fights especially with all the tough sparring I have been having with Natasha Jonas, I have been getting my head pinged all week. Tasha always looks so good and sharp. I remember watching her before Liverpool and she was looking unbelievable then. And I thought I can’t wait to be that fast or be able to do certain shots she was throwing. There’s this scooping uppercut, back-hand, I keep trying to throw it but I just haven’t got it yet.”
With an ever-increasing following on social media Dixon is aware of the importance of the modern-day way of promoting yourself. Despite being in the toughest game of them all, there is a certain fragility about Dixon away from the savageness of her sport. Make no mistake, there is real spite and venom in Dixon when the gloves go on, she becomes a different person when she has to go to work. Despite the engaging friendly personality it’s not hard to see the fighter in her.
But outside of the ring, a lack of self-confidence in that sometimes scary online world, and feeling a little unsure of what to post does restrict what she puts out on social media:
“I only do one post a week I think people will think here she is again, what now. I might post more though, I see lots of funny stuff on Twitter and I think I can’t retweet that because people will think why is she retweeting that. I think I will post more, I shouldn’t let other peoples perceptions of me stop me from doing what I want to do. Just put more of the stuff I like, videos of my boxing, pictures of the team it’s nice and it is stuff I can look back on.”
Dixon has no need to lack self-confidence in many ways, but that innocence is part of who she is. Get to know her and you find that she is one of that rare breed who is naturally funny without even trying to be. She has a bit of a potty mouth, and trust me, I am being kind, more than a few swear words used in our Zoom interview wouldn’t please her mum. But this is not a fighter or a person who has had her soul taken away by endless hours of media training. With a little more confidence, which will come in time, many more will get to see the real Rhiannon Dixon. The written word can’t really do justice in this instance.
In many different ways, she is a future star of the sport. Fighting skills are not always enough to crossover into the mainstream. Dixon appears to have everything she needs to do exactly that.
Dixon will grow and believe in herself more as time goes on, the scripted press conferences are not her arena, at least not yet, remove the restrictions of a scripted environment, Dixon comes alive.
To understand her insecurities in some aspects of her life, you probably have to go back to her teen years:
“When I was younger I never really bothered what people thought of me, but as I have got older I do. I grew up when all the Victoria’s Secrets models were the people to look like and I have never really been able to accomplish that look because I am thicker set. So growing up through that I got a little insecure and cared more about what people think. I don’t get nasty stuff on social media I get more vulgar stuff. It’s not that I am not bothered about social media, I know I have to do it and I do enjoy some aspects of it.”
Dixon is growing in many ways, as a person and as a fighter. Boxing has given her plenty. Despite the lack of fights, Dixon is a completely different fighter to the one we saw in 2019. The novice pro back then certainly had the look of a fighter with some talent, but a raw talent.
But the link-up with Crolla last year has resulted in many benefits for Dixon:
“Since I got with Anthony last year everything with my boxing has changed so much. The training and the quality of it are so much better. Obviously, I am now signed with Matchroom as well now, it could only have gone better if I would have fought more. It is everyone’s dream to get on such a large platform like Matchroom/DAZN. I have come from the unconventional way through the White Collar scene and nobody ever saw that for me and now I get to showcase myself on such a massive platform.
“Also I get to be the best athletic child in the family, because for a long time it has been my brother, and now it’s me. We recently went to my Dad’s old rugby club and usually he goes on about my brother but he introduced me and said this is my daughter and she is a professional boxer and she is signed with Eddie Hearn. Everybody was saying wow, and I just thought he talked about me first. So I think I’m the favourite now, it’s only taken 26 years.”
The talk about being the new golden child of the family is good-humoured, at least I think it is, but you still sense the pride for all involved. Boxing has allowed her to shine. Dixon seems happy with her life, a life that could soon change in many ways.
The Crolla connection comes with many advantages, not least being able to tap into the wealth of knowledge Joe Gallagher has and being able to train in a thriving and vibrant gym:
“I was actually training with the boys today because Ant was in London. Everybody is so razor focussed and Joe stands well back so he can see everyone, so if anyone is being lazy on the bags he can see them, it’s like he’s got eyes in the back of his head. It’s a really good environment in the gym at the moment because everyone has had fight dates and watching everyone sparring it motivates you. I’ve got so many role models in the gym because they are all further along than me and they have achieved so much. I couldn’t ask for a better team to be learning from.”
It has been some journey for Dixon, those first tentative steps into another world were inspired by the former UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. The former champion was a trailblazer for women’s mixed martial arts, Rousey was the reason Dana White brought the women into the UFC after previously saying it would never happen.
Rousey inspired many a fighter, and her impact wasn’t lost on Dixon:
“The reason I started combat sports, in general, was Ronda Rousey. I saw what she was doing and I watched this interview and she said every muscle in my body serves a purpose and I thought none of my muscles in my body serve any purpose. I’d watch her fights, and watch her at press conferences and weigh-ins and how she walked to the cage and I thought oh my god, you’re so mint. Ronda was like the first girlie girl who became a massive personality in combat sports. Ronda changed so many people’s opinions and she literally changed her personality when she got in the cage to fight. I just thought she was amazing.
“There’s another fighter now called Valentina Shevchenko, I absolutely love her. I stay up to watch her fights I think she is unbelievable. I watch her sparring videos and I think I want to spar her just to see how I would get on. I love all the theatrics around the UFC they put on such a great show and the fighters all have their own personalities.”
Dixon is at the start of her boxing career, Eddie Hearn signing her after just 3 fights as a professional and just a handful of White Collar fights says plenty. The pandemic stalled her career somewhat, but the partnership with Crolla was allowed to gel naturally and you saw a little glimpse of her potential in Bolton. In Manchester, we will get to see a little more, and more eyes will get to witness her progress.
Hopefully, 2022 will see Dixon have a full and active schedule and it will be interesting to see where her career is this time next year. With the women’s side of boxing still growing, title opportunities come very quickly. With many in the sport claiming Dixon is a potential star, those titles might not be that far away.
Photo Credit: Matchroom Boxing